Bridge to Hope

By Brian Morris

(Listen to an audio version of this story).

Karen is a 55-year old Falmouth woman. She's also a convicted drug felon who spent fourteen months behind bars at the Barnstable House of Corrections in Bourne. She doesn't want her last name used because, as she puts it, "I don't want my druggie friends to know where I am." Karen has seen her share of adversity: her daughter lapsed into a coma after a car accident and died on her 21st birthday. She lost a son at birth. And her sister died while she was serving her time.

Karen: "There's been a lot that I could blame taking drugs and drinking for. That was my out, but you know, nobody can make you do it."

Prior to her release, Karen met volunteers from the Bridge To Hope program when they visited the prison.

Karen: "And Bridge to Hope, when they come in, we used to look forward for them to come in, and just be with us - just let us know what's goin' on. It's awful bein' in there and say, 'Did it snow today? Did it rain today?' Because we have no windows. We have no way to know what's goin' on on the outside."

Bridge To Hope was conceived as a way to make the outside a little less threatening to women coming out of prison. It was started in 2004 in partnership with the Cape Cod Council of Churches, and is funded by the County, the Sheriff's Office, and grants. The idea is to match Bridge To Hope mentors with women inmates, or "mentees." Mentors correspond with their mentees for about six months prior to release, then provide practical assistance once they're out.

Linda Bradstreet: "Job searches, transportation...."

That's Linda Bradstreet, Bridge To Hope Director. As she developed the model for the program, she was surprised by local prison statistics.

Linda Bradstreet: "What I learned, as I got to know the women that are incarcerated, that there are many women in jail in their 50s and 60s. because we're on Cape Cod, there's a lot of substance abuse among the older generation."

And that often leads to re-incarceration if the women slip back into old habits.

Dell Jarnot: "They have addictions, is what gets them into the facility in the first place."

Dell Jarnot is Karen's mentor. She's a retired hairdresser originally from Buffalo, New York, and now living in Centerville.

Dell Jarnot: "Sometimes they have a boyfriend that coerces them, and when you come out, if you don't have a place to go, you're gonna go back with your old friends, go back to the old habits, and within months - I have seen it happen many times - that the girls land back in prison."

Jarnot was able to build a trusting relationship with Karen, and helped her get temporary housing at Champ House in Hyannis.

Dell Jarnot: "Somebody's gotta give 'em a little start. When they get a start, then they go flying. Karen here, she's not one to go in a corner and sit and feel sorry for herself. She wants to get up and do things. She wants to get into the flurry of whatever it is: baking, or moving, or changing or whatever. And so she has that in her. And she will succeed."

Linda Bradstreet takes special care in recruiting Bridge To Hope mentors.

Linda Bradstreet: "One of the key factors that I actually look for is whether or not that person has had a broken experience in their life, that they can understand and be compassionate of someone that has struggled, and that they have a faith in God. Those are the two things that I really look for, because I know that combination, they'll be able to listen to what someone is saying, and not be judgmental, and to be caring."

Karen seems committed to staying clean and sober, and doesn't want to backslide to where she was. But for her, it's a daily battle.

Karen: "You know, it's a chain reaction. you make that crime, and you're gonna pay for that crime even when you're in, when you get out. It's not easy when you get out, getting on any kind of income, or getting a job, getting on MassHealth again. And Bridge to Hope and all of them got me back on all my things that I had to get on."

Bridge To Hope currently has ten fully-trained mentors, and they've helped ease the transition for twenty women from prison back to civilian life. Bradstreet says that their overriding mission is to let these women know that someone is on their side.

Broadcast September 28, 2006

Brian Morris reports for WCAI, the Cape and Islands NPR Station.